The Problem With Purity Rings

Are purity rings still a thing?

When I was in high school, there was a big push for Christian teens to attend purity ring conferences, take the pledge of sexual abstinence, and wear purity rings as a sign that they were pledged to Christ and/or saving themselves for their future spouses.

The purity ring idea, though laudable, suffers from one significant problem. Two actually. The first problem is the idea of wearing a ring on your wedding finger to symbolize that you are “married” to Jesus. That is weird and semi-creepy. The church is the bride of Jesus, not me personally (and please don’t hit me up with the argument that because I’m part of the bride, I therefore am the bride). No self-respecting guy feels comfortable saying that they are married to Jesus. So the purity ring definitely had/has the weirdness problem.

But the second, more significant problem, is that the purity ring thrives on the premise of denial of desire. Those who slip the silver ring on their finger are making a pledge of sexual denial and abstinence, which is a good thing. The only problem is that the desire for abstinence can’t hold up in the face of the relentless onslaught of sexual temptation. In other words, it’s not enough to just pledge not to do something.

For purity to take root in any of our lives, the desire for purity must be rooted in something deeper and stronger.

In his classic essay, “The Expulsive Power Of A New Affection”, Thomas Chalmers says:

Insomuch, that if, through the extirpation of that desire which forms the originating principle of all this movement, the machinery were to stop, and to receive no impulse from another desire substituted in its place, the man would be left with all his propensities to action in a state of most painful and unnatural abandonment.

Let me translate that from Puritanese into normal speak. If a sinful desire is driven out of a person without another desire filling the vacuum, that person will be a miserable little sod.

This makes complete sense. It’s not enough to simply suppress sexual desire. Putting on purity rings and pledging to stay away from the park in the dark, won’t do it. A superior desire must come in and fill the vacuum that abstinence leaves.

That superior desire must be, of course, Jesus Christ. Again, to quote Thomas Chalmers:

When told to shut out the world from his heart, this may be impossible with him who has nothing to replace it—but not impossible with him, who has found in God a sure and a satisfying portion.

Purity rings won’t solve the problem.

Simply telling our kids to stay away from sex, or not do drugs, or not watch porn, is not enough. If we’re going to tell someone not to do something, we must also dazzle them with the surpassing beauty of Jesus Christ.

We call people to pursue abstinence because the pleasures of knowing Christ and following Christ are far superior to any pleasures of sin. We call people to put to death greed because the Kingdom of God is a greater treasure than any treasure offered by the world. We sound the call to holiness because holiness is a requisite for seeing the Lord, and that is the most glorious thing in the universe.

It is good and necessary to call people to pursue righteousness. But if we only tell people to subtract sinful desires, we are setting them up for abject failure. We must call people to put to death sin in order that they might experience the full joy of God.

We must hold forth the words of the Psalmist:

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11 ESV)

For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. (Psalm 84:11 ESV)

I don’t think I’ll ask my girls to wear purity rings. Not because I’m opposed to abstinence. Obviously, I think it’s very important. But I don’t want the focus of our sexual abstinence discussions to center around what they must not do. I want it to center around the surpassing joy of knowing Jesus Christ.

Hey, I'm Stephen Altrogge. I'm a dad and published author. I've written for The Gospel Coalition, Desiring God, ERLC, Church Leaders, Crosswalk, and many more outlets. You can follow me on Instagram and Facebook .